Take a perfectly good new bass and deliberately beat it up so that it appears to be much older.
It seems like total madness to some people, but many bass players think relic basses are very cool.
So cool in fact that they’re willing to part with thousands of dollars to get their hands on a well made, great playing and sounding bass that’s beat to heck on purpose.
When I first saw a relic bass I have to admit I was fascinated. The main thing that intrigued me was the actual methods they used to achieve that vintage look.
Fender started the relic series in the mid-1990s with some very nice basses hand “distressed” by master builder Vince Cunetto. Although some of them looked kind of fake to me, there were others that looked pretty convincing, and I love the look of a well-worn bass. One big advantage of a relic bass is you don’t have to worry about dinging and scratching it up. In fact the more bruised it gets, the cooler it looks.
There are many bassists out there that absolutely hate relic basses. They feel they are phony, pointless, and worst of all dishonest. Many of them think that people are buying these basses and trying to pass them off as genuine vintage instruments or pretending that they put all that wear on it from years of playing. I personally think that’s rarely ever the case.
When Fender introduced their Road Worn series things really started to heat up. Before then, almost all relic basses were one of a kind custom shop models that cost big bucks. Now you could get one that was mass produced for under a grand.
I think this, more than anything, started the relic hate trend that’s been going around in the bass community. It seems that when only a few could afford a relic it was acceptable, but now that many can afford one, it’s suddenly not so cool anymore. The Road Worn series basses are made in Mexico, and from what I’ve heard they use select high-quality wood and all those who work on them are trained in Fender’s famous Custom Shop facility.
I’ve played several Road Worn basses and really liked them all. They’re very well made basses and sound and play great. My one issue with them is that they all look pretty much the same, which kind of defeats the point of a relic bass. To look like a uniquely worn vintage bass, they should all have different wear patterns.
I’m still fascinated by relic basses, and I don’t really see why so many people dislike them. I think a really well-done relic job is a work of art. I know because I’ve tried to relic a bass, and it’s not easy to pull off. I personally prefer a very light relic or “closet classic look” as they tend to look more natural than a heavily relicked bass.
The bottom line is that you should play whatever you want, whether it’s a pristine, gleaming new bass or a beat up old road warrior…even if it’s actually brand new.